Yesterday the twig was brown and bare;
To-day the glint of green is there;
Tomorrow will be leaflets spare;
I know no thing so wondrous fair,
No miracle so strangely rare.
I wonder what will next be there!
— L.H. Bailey
I’ve often wondered how great writers are inspired and where they actually settle down to write and draw from within as they craft a best seller or classic novel. Books and their writers have fascinated and inspired me throughout my life. An avid reader and bookshop hound, I can bore you silly with accounts of my “finds” in used book stores over the years. I especially enjoy hearing a writer read from their own books; it adds dimension to the experience for me.
Reading, and therefore I imagine writing, is a very personal journey that shapes us. I find it interesting to see rooms where writers worked or lived, that have shaped their life’s work. Some are shockingly bare, devoid of personality or aesthetic. I wonder if these sparsely furnished surroundings provide a clean slate, so to speak. Here are some examples I came across:
Henry David Thoreau, Walden, MA
Stirring and inspirational are two words I’d use about Thoreau’s writings. You’d perhaps guess from his writing that Thoreau was Intent on simple living. He furnished his 10’x15′ home with only the necessary basics – a bed, a table, a desk, and three chairs. “I had but three chairs in my house: one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”
Emily Dickenson, Amhearst, MA
Most of the poet’s writing was done at a small writing table in her bedroom at The Homestead, with a window to look out from. While simple, her room actually looks comfortable compared to Thoreau’s.
Jane Austen, Hampshire, England
Austen often wrote on small pieces of paper, apparently anywhere. Another writer who used a small desk, this tiny 12-sided piece of walnut on a single tripod is where she drafted out many of her ideas in her reverend father’s Hampshire rectory. Her early novels had been written upstairs in the house, but from this table the revised manuscripts of Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, Persuasion, and Pride and Prejudice were completed.
Virginia Woolf, Sussex, England
Woolf created a writer’s lodge literally at the bottom of her garden, penning some of her most memorable works including Mrs. Dalloway. And if you enjoyed Marley & Me, you’d probably like Flush, A Biography that she wrote in 1933 inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker spaniel.
Roald Dahl, Buckinghamshire, England
I remember reading Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach to my children when they were younger. His writing is quirky, eccentric and funny, so it didn’t surprise me that Dahl wrote in pencil on yellow legal pads in a small shed. In this private sanctuary, he balanced something akin to a 2 x12 across the arms of an old wing back chair he sat in and had everything he needed within reach, including an ashtray.
William Faulkner, Rowan Oak, MS
Faulkner kept a bed in his office, and this famous image of it showcases the 2-time Pulitzer Prize winner’s plot for A Fable written on the walls. They were shellacked over by Faulkner in a burst of indignant rage after his wife insisted he paint over them. She obviously didn’t win that argument.
The great writers of the past were obviously not inspired by their surroundings! So what did inspire them? We can only guess or read between the lines of the wonderful works they produced and are with us still today.
— Debbie Hindman
This is the third and final installment of The Art of Composting series, researched and compiled by Rachel Blackburn. If you missed the previous two, link to and read Part I – Getting Started and Part II – What to Compost to gain more insight into the composting process. We trust you’ll find them very helpful!
Tips for Successful Composting:
Add the Ideal Balance of Green to Brown Materials
- It’s important to get the right mixture of components in your compost to ensure that it heats up to a proper temperature and breaks down efficiently. The right mixture of green (nitrogenous) materials to brown (carbon) materials can make a huge difference. Adding too much brown material will result in a pile that takes a long time to break down. Adding too much green material will result in a pile that is slimy, smelly, and doesn’t break down well. A compost pile is full of microorganisms that aid in the decomposition process, and they need both carbon and nitrogen to thrive; carbon for energy, and nitrogen for protein synthesis. Some people recommend an even ratio of green to brown materials, while others recommend 1/3 green to 2/3 brown materials. Play around with the balance until you are happy with the end result. Often, it varies depending on the season.
Shred the Larger Ingredients
- Remember to shred or break apart the components in your pile. Especially carbon rich ingredients such as leaves, hay, straw, paper and cardboard as they take the longest to break down. Shredding increases the surface area that the microorganisms have to work on and provides a more even distribution of air and moisture among the materials. The bigger the components in your pile, the longer they will take to break down.
Layer the Materials to Get it Started
- Start with a layer of straw or twigs, and then alternate green and brown layers. Keep the layers relatively thin and uniform. Once the pile is active, you can add materials by burying them in the center or just incorporating them more fully when you turn the pile, but to get started, try to disperse the elements fairly evenly, as in the diagram below.
Turn or Mix the Pile Frequently
- Turning your pile frequently will help the compost break down faster. Turning the pile adds fresh oxygen to the environment, which many of the bacteria that break down the compost need to survive. If there is not enough oxygen, the bacteria will start dying and the internal temperature of the pile will start to drop. The core of the pile should be around 110-160 degrees F. Turn the pile about every 14 days, or when you notice the temperature has fallen. When turning the material, use a garden rake or aerator tool and move the drier material from the outer edges of the pile into the center, and break up any clumps to get as much air into the mixture as you can.
Check the Compost Moisture Level
- It is important to keep the pile slightly moist at all times. To achieve the correct moisture content, the pile must not be too wet and soggy, or too dry. You should not be able to squeeze water out of the pile with your hands, but it should feel damp. If the pile does not crumble in your hands, but keeps its form when you squeeze it, it’s just right. If the pile is too wet try adding some brown carbon materials to the mix, like dry leaves. If the pile is too dry add some more green materials, or use a hose to add some water while turning the pile.
Add an Activator to Speed up the Process
- There are a few different compost activators sold, such as the examples below, which are said to help speed up the composting process by adding more nitrogen and protein, which help the microorganisms break down the organic material. They also help to maintain a proper pH balance, and help keep the pile at the ideal temperature by keeping more microorganisms alive.
- You can also use fresh manure (only from herbivores, check Part II for what not to compost), bone meal, blood meal, cottonseed meal, comfrey, or high protein dog food as a compost activator.
It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months for your compost to be ready to use. Once it is ready, use it to enrich your garden, around trees and shrubs to improve the soil content, as an all-over ground cover when planting sod, as a soil additive for house plants and planter boxes, and as protective mulch for trees and shrubs. Have fun with the process, and hopefully the outcome will be worth it!
— Rachel Blackburn